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Flight 19

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Disappearance of Flight 19
Grumman TBF-1 Avengers of VGS-29 in flight over Norfolk, Virginia (USA), on 1 September 1942 (80-G-427475).jpg
A similar flight of five Grumman TBF Avengers
DateDecember 5, 1945
SiteBermuda Triangle (Atlantic Ocean)
Aircraft typeGrumman TBM Avenger
Operator United States Navy
DestinationNAS Fort Lauderdale

Flight 19 was the designation of a group of five General Motors TBM Avenger torpedo bombers that disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle on December 5, 1945, after losing contact during a United States Navy overwater navigation training flight from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, Florida. All 14 airmen on the flight were lost, as were all 13 crew members of a Martin PBM Mariner flying boat that subsequently launched from Naval Air Station Banana River to search for Flight 19.

A report by Navy investigators concluded that flight leader Lt. Charles C. Taylor mistook small islands offshore for the Florida Keys after his compasses stopped working, resulting in the flight heading over open sea and away from land. The report was later amended by the Navy to read "cause unknown" to avoid blaming Taylor for the loss of five aircraft and 14 men. The report attributed the loss of the PBM aircraft to an explosion in mid-air while searching for the flight.

Navigation training flight[edit]

Flight 19 undertook a routine navigation and combat training exercise in TBM-type aircraft.[1] The assignment was called "Navigation problem No. 1", a combination of bombing and navigation, which other flights had completed or were scheduled to undertake that day.[2] The flight leader was United States Navy Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor, who had about 2,500 flying hours, mostly in aircraft of this type, while his trainee pilots each had 300 total, and 60 flight hours in the Avenger.[2] Taylor had completed a combat tour in the Pacific theater as torpedo bomber pilot on the aircraft carrier USS Hancock and had recently arrived from NAS Miami where he had also been a VTB (torpedo-bombing plane) instructor. The student pilots had recently completed other training missions in the area where the flight was to take place.[2] They were U.S. Marine Captains Edward Joseph Powers and George William Stivers, U.S. Marine Second Lieutenant Forrest James Gerber and USN Ensign Joseph Tipton Bossi; their call signs started with 'Fox Tare'.[citation needed]

The aircraft were three TBM-1Cs (BuNo 45714, 'FT3'; BuNo 46325, 'FT81'; BuNo 73209, 'FT117'), one TBM-1E (BuNo 46094, 'FT36'); and one TBM-3 (BuNo 23307, 'FT28'). Each aircraft was a version of the Grumman TBF Avenger, built by General Motors' Eastern Aircraft Division under wartime production license. Under the U.S. Navy aircraft designation system used during World War II, Grumman-built Avengers were designated TBF and GM-built aircraft such as these were designated TBM. Each was fully fueled, and during pre-flight checks, it was discovered they were all missing clocks. Navigation of the route was intended to teach dead reckoning principles, which involved calculating, among other things, elapsed time. The apparent lack of timekeeping equipment was not a cause for concern as it was assumed each man had his own watch. Takeoff was scheduled for 13:45 local time, but the late arrival of Taylor delayed departure until 14:10. Weather at NAS Fort Lauderdale was described as "favorable, sea state moderate to rough".[2] Taylor was supervising the mission, and a trainee pilot had the role of leader out front.[citation needed]

Called "Naval Air Station, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, navigation problem No. 1",[3] the exercise involved three different legs, but the actual flight should have flown four. After take off, they flew on heading 091° (almost due east) for 56 nmi (64 mi; 104 km) until reaching Hens and Chickens Shoals, commonly called Chicken Rocks, where low level bombing practice was carried out. The flight was to continue on that heading for another 67 nmi (77 mi; 124 km) before turning onto a course of 346° for 73 nmi (84 mi; 135 km), in the process over-flying Grand Bahama island. The next scheduled turn was to a heading of 241° to fly 120 nmi (140 mi; 220 km) at the end of which the exercise was completed and the Avengers would turn left to then return to NAS Ft. Lauderdale.[2]

Flight 19's scheduled navigation exercise on December 5, 1945.
1. Leave NAS Fort Lauderdale 14:10 on heading 091° for 56 nautical miles (104 km), drop bombs at Hens and Chickens shoals (B) until about 15:00 then continue on heading 091° for 67 nautical miles (124 km)
2. Turn left to heading 346° and fly 73 nautical miles (135 km).
3. Turn left to heading 241° for 120 nautical miles (222 km) to end exercise north of NAS Fort Lauderdale.
4. 17:50 radio triangulation establishes flight's position to within 50 nautical miles (93 km) of 29°N 79°W / 29°N 79°W / 29; -79 and their last reported course, 270°.
5. PBM Mariner leaves NAS Banana River 19:27.
6. 19:50 Mariner explodes near 28°N 80°W / 28°N 80°W / 28; -80.

Radio conversations between the pilots were overheard by base and other aircraft in the area. The practice bombing operation is known to have been carried out because at about 15:00 a pilot requested and was given permission to drop his last bomb.[2] Forty minutes later, another flight instructor, Lieutenant Robert F. Cox in FT-74, who was forming up with his group of students for the same mission, received an unidentified transmission.[3]

An unidentified crew member asked Powers, one of the students, for his compass reading. Powers replied: "I don't know where we are. We must have got lost after that last turn." Cox then transmitted; "This is FT-74, plane or boat calling 'Powers' please identify yourself so someone can help you." The response after a few moments was a request from the others in the flight for suggestions. FT-74 tried again and a man identified as FT-28 (Taylor) came on. "FT-28, this is FT-74, what is your trouble?" "Both of my compasses are out", Taylor replied, "and I am trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I am over land but it's broken. I am sure I'm in the Keys but I don't know how far down and I don't know how to get to Fort Lauderdale."[2]

FT-74 informed the NAS that aircraft were lost, then advised Taylor to put the sun on his port wing and fly north up the coast to Fort Lauderdale. Base operations then asked if the flight leader's aircraft was equipped with a standard YG (IFF transmitter), which could be used to triangulate the flight's position, but the message was not acknowledged by FT-28. (Later he would indicate that his transmitter was activated.) Instead, at 16:45, FT-28 radioed: "We are heading 030 degrees for 45 minutes, then we will fly north to make sure we are not over the Gulf of Mexico." During this time no bearings could be made on the flight, and IFF could not be picked up. Taylor was told to broadcast on 4805 kHz. This order was not acknowledged so he was asked to switch to 3000 kHz, the search and rescue frequency. Taylor replied – "I cannot switch frequencies. I must keep my planes intact."[2]

At 16:56, Taylor was again asked to turn on his transmitter for YG if he had one. He did not acknowledge but a few minutes later advised his flight "Change course to 090 degrees (due east) for 10 minutes." About the same time someone in the flight said "Dammit, if we could just fly west we would get home; head west, dammit."[2] This difference of opinion later led to questions about why the students did not simply head west on their own.[4] It has been explained that this can be attributed to military discipline.[4]

As the weather deteriorated, radio contact became intermittent, and it was believed that the five aircraft by this point were more than 200 nmi (230 mi; 370 km) out to sea east of the Florida peninsula. Taylor radioed "We'll fly 270 degrees west until landfall or running out of gas" and requested a weather check at 17:24. By 17:50 several land-based radio stations had triangulated Flight 19's position as being within a 100 nmi (120 mi; 190 km) radius of 29°N 79°W / 29°N 79°W / 29; -79; Flight 19 was north of the Bahamas and well off the coast of central Florida, but nobody transmitted this information on an open, repetitive basis.[citation needed]

At 18:04, Taylor radioed to his flight "Holding 270. We didn't fly far enough east; we may as well just turn around and fly east again". By that time, the weather had deteriorated even more and the sun had set. Around 18:20, Taylor's last message was received. (It has also been reported that Taylor's last message was received at 19:04.)[5] He was heard saying "All planes close up tight ... we'll have to ditch unless landfall ... when the first plane drops below 10 gallons [38 liters], we all go down together."[1][2]

PBM-5 (Bureau Number 59225)[edit]

PBM-5 Mariner
Martin PBM-5 Mariner in flight, circa in 1945 (SDASM 00006374).jpg
A Martin PBM-5 Mariner similar to BuNo 59225.[6]
DateDecember 5, 1945
SummaryDisappearance, Presumed mid-air explosion
Site28°35′N 80°15′W / 28.59°N 80.25°W / 28.59; -80.25
Aircraft typeMartin PBM-5 Mariner
Operator United States Navy
Flight originNAS Banana River
DestinationNAS Banana River

As it became obvious the flight was lost, air bases, aircraft, and merchant ships were alerted. A Consolidated PBY Catalina departed after 18:00 to search for Flight 19 and guide them back if they could be located. After dark, two Martin PBM Mariner flying boats originally scheduled for their own training flights were diverted to perform square pattern searches in the area west of 29°N 79°W / 29°N 79°W / 29; -79. US Navy Squadron Training No. 49[7] PBM-5 BuNo 59225 took off at 19:27 from Naval Air Station Banana River (now Patrick Space Force Base), called in a routine radio message at 19:30 and was never heard from again.[2]

At 21:15, the tanker SS Gaines Mills reported it had observed flames from an apparent explosion leaping 100 ft (30 m) high and burning for 10 minutes, at position 28°35′N 80°15′W / 28.59°N 80.25°W / 28.59; -80.25. Captain Shonna Stanley reported unsuccessfully searching for survivors through a pool of oil and aviation gasoline. The escort carrier USS Solomons also reported losing radar contact with an aircraft at the same position and time.[2]


A 500-page Navy board of investigation report published a few months later made several observations:

  • Flight leader Lt. Charles C. Taylor had mistakenly believed that the small islands he passed over were the Florida Keys, that his flight was over the Gulf of Mexico, and that heading northeast would take them to Florida. It was determined that Taylor had passed over the Bahamas as scheduled, and he did in fact lead his flight to the northeast over the Atlantic. The report noted that some subordinate officers did likely know their approximate position as indicated by radio transmissions stating that flying west would result in reaching the mainland.
  • Taylor was not at fault because the compasses stopped working.
  • The loss of PBM-5 BuNo 59225 was attributed to an explosion.[3]

This report was subsequently amended "cause unknown" by the Navy after Taylor's mother contended that the Navy was unfairly blaming her son for the loss of five aircraft and 14 men, when the Navy had neither the bodies nor the airplanes as evidence.[8]

Had Flight 19 actually been where Taylor believed it to be, the flight would have made landfall with the Florida coastline within 20 minutes, depending on how far down they were. However, a later reconstruction of the incident showed that the islands visible to Taylor were probably the Bahamas, well northeast of the Keys, and that Flight 19 was exactly where it should have been. The board of investigation found that because of his belief that he was on a base course toward Florida, Taylor actually guided the flight farther northeast and out to sea. Further, it was general knowledge at NAS Fort Lauderdale that if a pilot ever became lost in the area to fly a heading of 270° (due west). By the time the flight actually turned west, they were likely so far out to sea they had already passed their aircraft's fuel endurance. This factor combined with bad weather, and the ditching characteristics of the Avenger,[1] meant that there was little hope of rescue, even if they had managed to stay afloat.

It is possible that Taylor overshot Gorda Cay and instead reached another land mass in the southern Abaco Islands. He then proceeded northwest as planned. He fully expected to find the Grand Bahama Island lying in front of him as expected. Instead, he eventually saw a land mass to his right side, the northern part of Abaco Island. Believing that this landmass to his right was the Grand Bahama Island and his compass was malfunctioning, he set a course to what he thought was southwest to head straight back to Fort Lauderdale. However, in reality this changed his course farther northwest, toward open ocean.

To further add to his confusion, he encountered a series of islands north of Abaco Island, which look very similar to the Key West Islands. The control tower then suggested that Taylor's team should fly west, which would have taken them to the landmass of Florida eventually. Taylor headed for what he thought was west, but in reality was northwest, almost parallel to Florida.

After trying that for a while and with no land in sight, Taylor decided that it was impossible for them to fly so far west and not reach Florida. He believed that he might have been near the Key West Islands. What followed was a series of serious conversations between Taylor, his other aircrew and the control tower. Taylor was not sure whether he was near Bahama or Key West, and he was not sure which direction he faced due to compass malfunction. The control tower informed Taylor that he could not be in Key West since the wind that day did not blow that way. Some of the aircrew believed that their compass was working. Taylor then set a course northeast according to their compass, which should take them to Florida if they were in Key West. When that failed, Taylor set a course west according to their compass, which should have taken them to Florida if they were in Bahama. If Taylor stayed this course he would have reached land before running out of fuel. However, at some point Taylor decided that he had tried going west enough. He then once again set a course northeast, thinking they were near Key West after all. Finally, his flight ran out of fuel and may have crashed into the ocean somewhere north of Abaco Island and east of Florida.[9]

Avenger wreckage mistaken for Flight 19[edit]

In 1986 the wreckage of an Avenger was found off the Florida coast during the search for the wreckage of the Space Shuttle Challenger.[10] Aviation archaeologist Jon Myhre raised this wreck from the ocean floor in 1990.[11] He mistakenly believed it was one of the missing planes.[12]

In 1991 a treasure-hunting expedition led by Graham Hawkes announced that the wreckage of five Avengers had been discovered off the coast of Florida, but that tail numbers revealed they were not Flight 19.[13][14] In 2004 a BBC documentary showed Hawkes returning with a new submersible 12 years later and identifying one of the planes by its bureau number (a clearly readable 23990[15]) as a flight lost at sea on October 9, 1943, over two years before Flight 19 (its crew all survived[16]), but he was unable to definitively identify the other planes; the documentary concluded that "Despite the odds, they are just a random collection of accidents that came to rest in the same place 12 miles [19 km] from home."[17][15]

In March 2012 Hawkes was reported as saying it had suited both him (and indirectly his investors) and the Pentagon to make the story go away because it was an expensive and time-consuming distraction, and that, while admitting he had found no conclusive evidence, a statistician he consulted said it was Flight 19.[14]

Records showed training accidents between 1942 and 1945 accounted for the loss of 95 aviation personnel from NAS Fort Lauderdale.[18] In 1992, another expedition located scattered debris on the ocean floor, but nothing could be identified. In the 2000s, searchers[who?] expanded their search area farther east, into the Atlantic Ocean, but the remains of Flight 19 have still not been confirmed found.[citation needed]

A 2015 newspaper report claimed a wrecked warplane with two bodies inside was retrieved by the Navy in the mid-1960s near Sebastian, Florida. The Navy initially said it was from Flight 19 but later recanted its statement. Despite Freedom of Information Act requests for details in 2013,[19] the names are still not known because the Navy does not have enough information to identify the bodies.

A wrecked plane found in the Everglades in Broward County was also, incorrectly, postulated to be from Flight 19.[20] In fact this TBN-3E crashed March 16,1947.[21] The crash was reportedly caused by its pilot, Ensign Ralph N. Wachob, developing vertigo. Wachob was killed in the crash.

In fiction[edit]

Flight 19 is featured in the 1977 science-fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the film's opening, the aircraft are discovered in the Sonoran Desert, in pristine condition with full fuel tanks, one of several mysterious events that imply extraterrestrial activity. In the film's ending scene, the crew return to Earth from the alien mothership, seemingly the same age as at their disappearance.

Crews of Flight 19 and PBM-5 BuNo 59225[edit]

The men of Flight 19 and PBM-5 BuNo 59225[3]
Pilot Crew Bureau Nr. (BuNo)
FT-28 Charles C. Taylor, lieutenant, USNR George Devlin, AOM3c, USNR
Walter R. Parpart, ARM3c, USNR
FT-36 E. J. Powers, captain, USMC Howell O. Thompson, SSgt, USMCR
George R. Paonessa, Sgt, USMC
FT-3 Joseph T. Bossi, ensign, USNR Herman A. Thelander, S1c, USNR
Burt E. Baluk, JR., S1c, USNR
FT-117 George W. Stivers, captain, USMC Robert P. Gruebel, Pvt, USMCR
Robert F. Gallivan, Sgt, USMC
FT-81* Forrest J. Gerber, 2ndLt, USMCR William E. Lightfoot, PFC, USMCR 46325
BuNo 59225 Walter G. Jeffery, LTJG, USN Harrie G. Cone, LTJG, USN
Roger M. Allen, ensign, USN
Lloyd A. Eliason, ensign, USN
Charles D. Arceneaux, ensign, USN
Robert C. Cameron, RM3, USN
Wiley D. Cargill, Sr., Seaman 1st, USN
James F. Jordan, ARM3, USN
John T. Menendez, AOM3, USN
Philip B. Neeman, Seaman 1st, USN
James F. Osterheld, AOM3, USN
Donald E. Peterson, AMM1, USN
Alfred J. Zywicki, Seaman 1st, USN
* This particular plane was one crew member short. The airman in question, Corporal Allan Kosnar, "had asked to be excused from this exercise."[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Mayell, Hillary (December 15, 2003). "Bermuda Triangle: Behind the Intrigue". National Geographic. p. 2. Archived from the original on October 22, 2019. Retrieved March 10, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l McDonell, Michael (June 1973). "Lost Patrol". Naval Aviation News: 8–16. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 2, 2004.
  3. ^ a b c d Naval Air Advanced Training Command Board of Inquiry (December 7, 1945). Board of Investigation Into 5 Missing TBM Airplanes and One PBM Airplane Convened by Naval Air Advanced Training Command, NAS Jacksonville, Florida 7 December 1945 and Related Correspondence (Flight 19) (Report). United States Navy via Archived from the original on June 16, 2017. Retrieved March 8, 2008.
  4. ^ a b Goodridge, Elisabeth (November 17, 2005). "Flight 19 crew honored by House; disappearance began notion of Bermuda Triangle". Free New Mexican. Archived from the original on November 26, 2005.
  5. ^ "Mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle". Decoding the Past. Season 1. Episode 16. 2005. History Channel.
  6. ^ "Background on Naval Aircraft Bureau (Serial) Numbers". Naval History & Heritage Command. 2007. Archived from the original on January 8, 2014. Retrieved January 8, 2014.
  7. ^ "HyperWar: Findings of the Board of Investigation Into the Loss of Flight 19 (Bermuda Triangle)". Archived from the original on June 16, 2017. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  8. ^ McElhiney, Allan. "Flight 19 the Lost Avengers". Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum. Archived from the original on August 16, 2018. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  9. ^ "Bermuda Triangle". Naked Science. Season 1. Episode 6. 2004. National Geographic Channel.
  10. ^ (via Google Books archive):Bloom year, Minerva (2015). Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale: A Catalyst for Growth. ISBN 9781304076465. Retrieved September 20, 2015.
  12. ^ The Aircraft was TBM Avenger 45798 Lost January 1945 off Florida coast from USS Solomons. NAS Ft Lauderdale Museum and J. Baugher aircraft listing
  13. ^ Golden, Tim (June 5, 1991). "Mystery of Bermuda Triangle Remains One". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 10, 2017. Retrieved September 10, 2014. The undersea explorers who announced last month that they might have discovered five Navy planes that vanished mysteriously in 1945, laying a foundation for the myth of a craft-swallowing Caribbean twilight zone, said that on closer inspection, the planes they found turned out not to be those of the fabled 'Flight 19.' ... Mr. Hawkes said at a news conference that in four of the five cases, the tail numbers of the planes his team had found did not match those of the lost aircraft.
  14. ^ a b Higginbotham, Adam (March 2012). "Graham Hawkes and the Race to the Bottom of the Sea". Men's Journal. p. 3. Archived from the original on September 10, 2014. Retrieved September 10, 2014. Hawkes has since changed his story. Now he says both he (because his investors didn't want to waste valuable time on an investigation) and the Pentagon (because they had more important things to worry about) had an interest in making the story go away. He admits that while he didn't find conclusive evidence that the planes were the same group that went missing in 1945, he consulted a statistician to establish the probability that they were not. "He said, 'You've got Flight 19,' " Hawkes says.
  15. ^ a b "Online Video Extract from 'The Bermuda Triangle: Beneath the Waves'". YouTube. 2004. Archived from the original on August 17, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
  16. ^ Indeed, as documented here Archived May 17, 2014, at the Wayback Machine in the Military Times Hall Of Valor, the pilot, George Swint, went on to become a decorated war hero flying torpedo bombers from the USS Enterprise (an aircraft carrier that eventually gave its name to the spaceship in Star Trek) in 1944 and the USS Lexington in 1945, receiving the Navy Cross for "extraordinary heroism" in 1944 and the DFC for "extraordinary achievement" in 1945.
  17. ^ "The Bermuda Triangle: Beneath the Waves". BBC. 2004. Archived from the original on December 28, 2014. Retrieved September 10, 2014. Graham Hawkes is also able to reveal, by using a state-of-the-art submarine, how five wrecks mysteriously wound up 730 feet down in the heart of the Bermuda Triangle.
    Broadcasts Archived March 23, 2016, at the Wayback Machine: First broadcast (BBC1): Sun March 14, 2004; BBC4:Sat December 28, 2013, Mon January 6, 2014, Tue January 7, 2014, Thu March 6, 2014, Fri March 7, 2014, Tue August 9, 2014, Wed August 10, 2014
    Alternative name (and full credits) at IMDb: Dive to Bermuda Triangle (2004) Archived April 1, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
    Transcript of the text of a shortened version of the program (including advertisements) Archived September 10, 2014, at the Wayback Machine:
  18. ^ "Flight 19 Memorial". Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum. Archived from the original on July 14, 2011. Retrieved December 13, 2010. A sad but equally historic note is the fact that 95 young Americans lost their lives at the NAS Fort Lauderdale base during 1942-1945— the three most intensive training years of the war.
  19. ^ Kaye, Ken (April 2, 2015), "Were two dead pilots part of Lost Patrol?", Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, FL, archived from the original on April 5, 2015, retrieved April 6, 2015
  20. ^ "FT-28 Theory". AeroQuest. Archived from the original on March 26, 2019. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  21. ^ "TBM-3 Avenger ( BuNo: 53118) – Mystery Solved!", AeroQuest, April 18, 2014, archived from the original on March 23, 2018, retrieved March 22, 2018
  22. ^ "The Mystery of Flight 19". Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum. Archived from the original on July 14, 2011. Retrieved March 24, 2015. FT - 81: Pilot: 2nd Lt. Forrest J. Gerber, USMCR. Aircraft: TBM-1C. BuNo 46325. Crew: (Only one) Pfc. William Lightfoot, USMCR. That day, Corporal Allan Kosnar had asked to be excused from this exercise.

External links[edit]